Christopher Meloni is one of a few actors whose range is deceptively wider than most. For every intense and/or tough guy character on his CV like Oz’s Chris Keller, or Law and Order: SVU’s Elliot Stabler, there’s a funny oddball like camp cook Gene in Wet Hot American Summer or “Freakshow” in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
According to Meloni he takes whatever roles the spirit moves him to take, which apparently might involve playing Tinkerbell or a cop on the next season of FX’s Fargo. But before we get to any of that, his next range-showcasing performance is in the coming-of-age drama White Bird in a Blizzard opposite Shailene Woodley and Eva Green. Written and directed by Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin), the story is set when the ’80s became the ’90s, and revolves around the disappearance of Eve (Green) and the effect it has on her teenage daughter Kat (Woodley) and hapless husband Brock (Meloni).
Playboy recently sat down with Meloni to discuss White Bird — which hits theaters and On Demand on Oct. 24 — his “get shitfaced” approach to comedies and his trouser-tightening first encounter with Playboy.
You have some great scenes with Eva Green. What’s she like as an actor?
It was fantastic. I knew hew through her work in a completely different arena, which was the James Bond flick [Casino Royale] but she’s great. There’s an air of mystery to her, a funny side as well that really cracked me up. I found a lot of that humor in her performance and that for me was part of what was so alluring or enticing.
What’s fun for you about getting into the darkness of complex characters?
I want to inhabit difficult truths. I think that helps you explore tougher terrain that you don’t always get to as an actor because it’s difficult for people to watch. People are like, “Ah, this is a tough subject matter, I’m not sure we want to put up the money.”
What do you like about being able to do hard-core drama and also, as my editor put it, daffy comedy? Especially looking at Wet Hot American Summer, which has been running on cable a lot recently.
That’s that instinct thing — if I want to dig into something, or I go “I just want a good ride. I want to fuck around, I want to get shitty, I want to get shitfaced,” you know? It’s however the winds blow. And also if someone wants me, like,“I want to dance a serious dance with you.” I’m a serious actor: “I would be glad to dance with you seriously.”
I saw you tweet that you would like to be a part of the Peter Pan musical? Not that I’m surprised, but I wasn’t aware of your musical theatricality…
[In a jokingly arrogant tone] Please, sweetheart, I’ve got more talent in this pinkie than… than… who’s a good comparison? But I know [what I can do], it’s crazy.
Who would you play?
Oh, Tumblr would love that to happen, I imagine.
It’s a ratings bonanza! Yep. Put a pair of wings on this back and forget about it.
You also mentioned wanting to join Fargo, would you want to be a serial killer?
No, I think I’d like to be a straight cop type. I’ve always appreciated the movie because those very subdued straight roles were just as fantastic and funny as the more flamboyant Steve Buscemi one, like William H. Macy’s.
Playboy’s Lucky 7 Questions
What was your first encounter with Playboy magazine?
It was probably underneath the bed of one of my buddies. I was probably 10 or 11. I’d seen nude magazines, but the other ones that were black and white, women hanging up their laundry in just a bra or topless. It was underneath a bed, usually next to a box of condoms.
So it was a positive experience?
Really powerful. Because you’re like, “What is this world and why are my trousers very tight right now?” But you know why the trousers are tight, it’s just coming together and when you’re exposed to that it’s coming really fast. You’d heard about it and then all of the sudden it hits you, pa-gong, like “Holy jeez” and your fantasies go wild.
What movie scared me the most as a kid?
Hmm… I don’t know.
What’s your pop culture blind spot?
I never hooked into reality shows. I remember doing Oz when Survivor started and some of the crew members were freaks about it. I saw maybe 20 minutes of it one time, I just don’t get it.
If, heaven forbid you were on death row, what would be your last meal? Filet mignon, lasagna with tiramisu and a quad espresso.
What’s the first song you knew all the words to? “Hey Jude,” by the Beatles.
What was your first car?
My first car was a motorcycle, does that count? I bought it, I was in college. Before that I borrowed my mother’s Buick Electra, deuce and a quarter; powder blue, crushed velour interior, brother was pimpin’.
What was your favorite mistake?
I met my wife and she was living with a guy. I bumped into her a couple months later and then went to her house to ask her out, left a note, “I’m in town, let’s go out and have a drink” she called me back. But between that note and her calling me back I’d met three girls, so I took care of that, kind of let the ball drop with her. Cut to two years later since the first time we met and I bump into her at the last party of the last night of Sundance.